Thoughts of Abdelhak Nouri are never far away from Donny van de Beek, his best friend when the pair were breaking through to the Ajax Amsterdam first team three seasons ago.
So when Van de Beek scored in the 34th minute of Tuesday’s Champions League victory at Juventus, his mind turned immediately to his former team mate, who suffered cardiac arrest during a pre-season friendly in Austria in July 2017.
Despite being revived on the pitch and airlifted to a hospital, Nouri suffered serious and permanent brain damage.
The time of Tuesday’s equaliser for Ajax in the second leg of their quarter-final tie was the same as the number Nouri wore on his Ajax shirt in his 15 appearances in his debut 2016-17 season.
“I looked at the scoreboard and saw it immediately. It had to be, you have to think,” said Van de Beek after the 2-1 win in Turin ensured a 3-2 aggregate triumph and a place in the semi-finals for Ajax for the first time since 1997.
Ajax have since admitted to providing inadequate on-field medical treatment for Nouri. Van de Beek, who turns 22 on Thursday, still finds it difficult to address the issue.
“But after scoring a goal in minute number 34, I thought of him. I won’t ever forget it,” he told reporters.
Last year, the Dutch club said it had sought an external opinion during the incident and acted accordingly but further investigations showed that a defibrillator should have been used sooner in the treatment.
“Had this happened, it’s possible that Abdelhak would have come out in a better condition. This isn’t certain, but it’s a possibility,” said the club’s general manager Edwin van der Sar at the time.
Nouri, born in Amsterdam to parents of Moroccan descent, came through the ranks with many of the Ajax players who have gone on to enjoy widespread acclaim for their exploits in this year’s competition.